Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Planning Application Consultation

This week, a planning application has been submitted by:
  • Top Park, Top Road, Barnacle - retention of the use of land and ancillary operational development as a residential caravan site, including the erection of six temporary amenity blocks.
Full details of the application (including site plans) can be found by clicking here. All comments on the application must be received by Rugby Borough Council by Thursday 13 January.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Cold Weather Advice from Rugby Borough Council

With the cold weather seeming to have started earlier, and being more sustained, than in previous years, Rugby Borough Council has issued some cold weather advice and set up a dedicated page on their website for further information. The web page provides links to all the key information you'll need to know in the case of heavy snow or prolonged cold weather and is worth visiting as a first point of call.

The council's most recent press release says:
Waste collection crews are trying hard to collect the bins in the current icy conditions.

However, with the cold weather conditions we are experiencing at the moment it is sometimes difficult to get the garden and food waste out of the frozen bins.

Residents are urged to loosen their bin lids and also try to loosen the garden waste where possible to help the crews with getting the waste out of the bins.

And for those residents on income-related benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that recorded temperatures in the CV21, CV22 and CV23 postcode areas have dipped below the trigger point for Cold Weather Payments.

Those eligible residents will receive an extra £25 within the next 12 days.

Additionally, all matches due to be played on borough council-run sports pitches will be cancelled this weekend.

For more information, visit

I must admit that I find it hard to believe that it was cold enough in the CV21, CV22 and CV23 postcode areas to trigger Cold Weather Payments, but the CV7 area was too 'warm'. Hopefully it's not the case of Rugby council forgetting that residents with a CV7 postcode live within the borough. I shall perhaps investigate that one further and report back. Until then, keep warm!

Friday, 29 October 2010

WALC AGM - 27 October

On Wednesday night, I attended the 2010/11 AGM of the Warwickshire and West Midlands Association of Local Councils (WALC) in Warwick.

Representatives from 40 of the town and parish councils in Warwickshire met at Shire Hall to elect the officers and the county committee of WALC for the forthcoming year, and to hear a keynote speech from Jonathan Horsfield, Renewable Energy Advisor for
Warwickshire County Council.

The topic of Jonathan's speech was 'UK Energy Security and Peak Oil', which may not be at the top of every parish council's agenda, but was an interesting subject nonetheless. The concept of '
Peak Oil' is that it is the point at which the maximum amount of oil is being extracted from the earth. After this point has been reached and then passed, oil production will rapidly decrease, prices will dramatically increase, and the knock-on implications for travel, heating and food production etc will need to be tackled by governments, energy companies and individuals.

It was perhaps all a bit 'Doomsday scenario' for a gathering of mostly geriatric parish councillors, but the general theme was that all of us will be required to re-evaluate our dependency on oil and be prepared for changes in lifestyle and disposable income as a finite natural resource becomes ever more scarce. Jonathan outlined in practical terms what the impact of increasing oil prices could have on the services the county council provided, including highways maintenance, transportation, catering and children's services.

If you want to learn more about this issue, have a look at the
Oil Depletion Analysis Centre website, or watch video from Warwickshire County Council's seminar held in June on energy security and the implications of oil supply for local authorities here.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Parish Council Meeting - 5 October

Last Tuesday I attended the October meeting of Shilton Parish Council. It was my first parish council meeting for two months and it was good to get back up to speed with a number of the on-going issues that had been a feature of recent meetings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the main topics of discussion was the events of 24/25 September in Barnacle that ended up with the submission of a planning application for the creation of a gypsy caravan site for three families in Top Road. Borough Councillors
Tony Gillias and Rachel Watts attended the meeting to update the parish council on events as they were developing, including the High Court hearing that was taking place in London the following day (more here.)

The parish council were being consulted on the
planning application for this development, and after a full discussion, councillors agreed to inform Rugby Borough Council that they objected to the granting of planning permission, principally on the grounds that the area was in the Green Belt and it was therefore inappropriate for development of this type to be permitted there.

In other business, a local resident in Shilton had complained in the past about the speed of traffic in Wood Lane. As a result,
Warwickshire County Council had undertaken a covert speed survey on 9 September. It was now reported that the outcome of this survey showed an average speed of 34.6mph along the road, qualifying it for a more in depth speed survey to establish the full extent of the speeding problem in the area. In the meantime, look out for Smiley Sid to be making an appearance sometime soon to encourage us all not to exceed the speed limit!

Finally, the parish council appointed Emma Raymont as its new Clerk to take over from Andrea Mogano, who had stood in following the retirement of Chris Warburton. Emma's contact details will be publicised in the next edition of the BASIS newsletter, but can be contacted at if you need to get hold of her before then. A huge thanks needs to go to Andrea for everything she's done over the last few months - the parish council would've been in a much worse state of affairs were it not for her efforts!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Planning Applications Consultations and Decisions

This week, planning applications have been submitted by:
  • Land south side of Top Road, Barnacle - change of use of land for use as a residential caravan site for gypsy families, comprising three pitches for the siting of three mobile homes and three touring caravans, including ancillary works.
  • Tree Tops, Shilton Lane, Shilton - alterations and extensions to dwelling to include extension to side and provision of living accommodation in roof space, erection of detached triple garage to front and alterations to access.

Full details of the applications (including site plans) can be viewed here (Top Road) and here (Shilton Lane). All comments on the applications must be received by Rugby Borough Council by Thursday 28 October (Top Road) and Wednesday 20 October (Shilton Road).

Rugby Borough Council has also reached the following decisions on planning applications submitted in June/July:

  • Land west of Bulkington Road, Shilton - erection of a stable and tack room, and provision of a menage - approved.
  • The Spinney, Shilton Lane, Shilton - erection of a day room/amenity block to existing authorised gypsy site - approved.

The full decisions on these applications can be viewed here (Bulkington Road) and here (Shilton Lane).

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Planning Application Consultation

This week, a planning application has been submitted by:

  • The Spinney, Shilton Lane, Coventry - erection of a dayroom/amenity building to existing authorised gypsy site.

Full details of the application (including site plans) can be found by clicking here. All comments on the application must be received by Rugby Borough Council by Monday 13 September.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Cost of Getting Elected

If you think you can get yourself elected to public office for free, then think again (unless you're aspiring to no greater office than a parish councillor!)

Getting yourself elected to your local borough council isn't cheap, and getting elected to Parliament will cost serious money. So you'll either need deep pockets yourself, have a wealthy benefactor who's happy to bankroll your political career, or (most likely) you'll have a political party that'll pick up the tab, or at least a significant amount of it.

Fortunately, all candidates who stand for public office must state how much money they spent trying to get elected (whether successfully or not). So with last May's General Election fast becoming a distant memory, here's the full list of how much each of the six candidates who wished to become Rugby's new MP spent in trying to win your vote:

Mark Pawsey (Conservative) - £18,869.29
Andy King (Labour) - £15,801.79
Jerry Roodhouse (Liberal Democrat) - £4,292.79
Barry Milford (UKIP) - £745.00
Mark Badrick (BNP) - £550.40
Roy Sandison (Green) - £249.46

Which comes to a grand total of £40,508.73 spent by the candidates. I suppose at least one of the above will argue that it was money well spent!

Not to be outdone (despite being considerably outspent), candidates seeking to be elected borough councillor for the Fosse ward on Rugby Borough Council have also published their election expenses:

Rachel Watts (Conservative) - £367.85
Robert Bevin (Labour) - £92.70
Richard Gunstone (Liberal Democrat) - £0.00

So if you fancy taking on either Mark or Rachel the next time they're up for election, at least now you know how much they're likely to spend trying to beat you!

Monday, 28 June 2010

WALC Rugby Branch Meeting - 24 June

Last Thursday I attended the Rugby branch meeting of the Warwickshire and West Midlands Association of Local Councils (WALC) in Rugby. This was the annual joint meeting that the WALC Rugby branch has with Rugby Borough Council in order to discuss matters of joint concern and interest.

There were a number of different issues discussed, including fly tipping/litter, dog fouling and flooding. However, the issue that interested me most was an update from Rugby Borough Council as to recent developments regarding the production of the borough's Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document.

In May, I blogged that Councillor Tony Gillias had reported at the Shilton Annual Parish Meeting that production of this important planning document - that would identify where, within the Rugby borough area, provision for the 42 extra gypsy and traveller pitches that were needed between now and 2017 were to be located - had been delayed, and would not now be adopted until July 2012. At the time, I indicated how disappointed I was that this plan had been delayed from February 2011 to July 2012.

As with so much to do with local government, there is a long and tortuous history to the production of the Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document, and for a recap you should read my blog post from January this year. However, in summary, the plan would have allocated land for the 42 extra pitches that the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy said that Rugby Borough Council had to find. Each local authority in the West Midlands had to identify sufficient land within its area to provide for the number of pitches that the Regional Spatial Strategy required of it. Rugby's total was forty-two.

This was all well and good, until the incoming Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government decided to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies. In fairness, this policy was common knowledge by everyone well in advance of May's General Election, but it's implementation has left local councils (including Rugby) with a fair amount of uncertainty. It was the Regional Spatial Strategy that said Rugby BC should provide for 42 extra pitches, but if the Regional Spatial Strategy has been scrapped, how many pitches should it now provide for? And because of this uncertainty, Rugby has actually decided to do.......... well, nothing.

It has formally decided to suspend any work on producing its Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document for the next six months, in which time it hopes to get guidance from the Government as to how many pitches it needs to accommodate. Which means, at the very earliest, there will be no Site Allocations Plan in force until January 2013.

I strongly believe that this is bad news for Shilton and Barnacle. A Site Allocations Plan would have ensured that traveller sites were located in areas where they were most suited, both for travellers themselves and the settled community. It would have given clear planning guidance to travellers as to where Rugby BC would support their applications for sites, and it would have avoided the "one rule for us and another rule for them" argument that can so damage community relations. As it is, we are no further forward in finding a planning solution to the siting of traveller sites in the borough than we've ever been. And there's now no realistic likelihood of any progress being made within the next year.

The Government thinks that local councils are best left making these sorts of decisions, without having to implement diktats "from above". I am all for giving local authorities more powers and responsibilities, but on this issue I have to say that I think the Government is wrong. The West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy evened out the amount of pitches that each council had to provide, to ensure that sites were provided across the region and that no one council area was required to provide a significantly larger number of extra pitches than any other council area.

As I said in January, Rugby's original allocation of 66 extra pitches was revised down to 42, and the surplus 24 pitches were re-allocated to neighbouring authorities. But now with no Regional Spatial Strategy to enforce that re-allocation of pitches, have a guess at how many of Rugby's 'surplus' 24 pitches the councils in Coventry, North Warwickshire, Tamworth and Warwick will want to volunteer to provide??

The hope is that the Government, within the next six months, will issue clear guidance to local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate as to how they are to determine applications for traveller sites. And if the answer is to leave it up to each council to determine, and provide for, its own need (as most councils want), then Rugby will be a big loser. Anyone who thought that traveller sites should be allocated more evenly across the West Midlands should not be happy at the scrapping of Regional Spatial Strategies.

I'm hugely doubtful, given all of the other national issues that need to be addressed, whether anything will be forthcoming before Christmas. But until it does, Rugby Borough Council are not going to do any more work on developing its policies for the proper provision of gypsy and traveller sites within the borough.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Parish Council Meeting - 1 June

On Tuesday night I attended the June meeting of Shilton Parish Council. There was a fairly light agenda for this meeting, resulting in an early finish and back home for 9.00pm. However, there were a few items of interest that were considered.

As part of the Shilton and Barnacle Parish Plan, the
Warwickshire Rural Community Council had previosuly carried out a Housing Needs Survey to determine what local need there was for new housing in either of the villages. The Housing Needs Survey is an important document because Rugby Borough Council should only give planning permission for new housing development in the parish where it is intended to meet an identifiable local housing need. Up until the production of the Parish Plan, it was not known what the additional housing need was for local people with a connection to either of the villages. This left the parish open to 'evidence' submitted on behalf of a developer that what either village really needed was a new estate of five-bedroomed Executive housing, and we would have had no hard evidence to show that this wasn't the case.

However, the Housing Needs Survey only identified a need for 3 x two-bedroomed houses in the parish. The only new development that Rugby Borough Council should therefore allow is a planning application that will meet this identified need.

Warwickshire Rural Community Council has been looking to identify suitable land in either Shilton or Barnacle where these three properties could be built, and one piece of land recently identified was in Spring Road, Barnacle. I had my concerns about the suitability of this site, principally because of the dangerous junction at Spring Road/Top Road. A small development of three houses could still result in six or more extra cars using this junction on a daily basis, and I was not comfortable in supporting this because of the potential increase in traffic at a junction that is, effectively, blind from all three directions.

Warwickshire County Council's Highways Department shared this concern, and once they indicated that they would object to any development in Spring Road on highway safety grounds, the proposal was effectively vetoed. Warwickshire Rural Community Council will continue their search for other possible sites that would be suitable for development and will report back to future meetings of the parish council.

Councillor Bill King, Chairman of the parish council, also reported that our annual accounts for the last financial year had now been audited and given a clean bill of health. So, for anyone who's interested in what your money goes on, here are Shilton Parish Council's finalised accounts for 2009/10:

Burial fees - £1,885
Wayleave - £8
Precept - £15,580

Total - £17,473

Cemetery maintenance - £917
General administration - £4,835
Playing field maintenance - £1,127
Car park - £3,007
Land at Ash Tree Grove - £950
s137 payments - £100
Barnacle notice board - £360
Street lighting - £3,788

Total - £15,084

Balance at start of year - £861

Income less expenditure - £2,389

Balance at end of year - £3,250

The next parish council meeting is on Tuesday 6 July.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Annual Parish Meeting - 12 May

Last Wednesday night I attended the Annual Parish Meeting in Barnacle. This isn't a formal parish council meeting, but is an opportunity for the community to come together once a year to hear reports and feedback from the different local authorities and community organisations that exist in Shilton and Barnacle. The venue of the Annual Parish Meeting alternates each year between the two villages.

This year, there were presentations from Shilton Parish Council Chairman Bill King,
Warwickshire County Councillor Phillip Morris-Jones, Rugby Borough Councillor Tony Gillias, and representatives from Shilton Village Hall Committee, Barnacle Village Hall Committee, Shilton Playing Fields Committee and the BASIS editorial team. Sadly, in addition to these people, there were only three other members of the public in attendance. Perhaps, in hindsight, more people would've turned out if there had been a keynote speaker on a topic of local interest around which the meeting could've been themed. Something to consider for next year.

It was heartening to hear of the many achievements and progress being made by the voluntary groups in the two villages. There are so many good things happening, it's a shame that they often don't filter down to the wider public, who remain largely unaware of the time and effort put in by so many volunteers.

I was interested to hear the report from Councillor Tony Gillias because he provided an update on the borough council's Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document. This is an important document in that it will identify where, within the Rugby borough area, provision for the 42 extra gypsy and traveller pitches that are needed between now and 2017 are to be located. (If you're new to this issue, it might be worth reading my
blog entry from January which summarises the progress made to date).

Sadly, the progress reported by Tony Gillias was that there hadn't been that much!
Delays in producing Rugby Borough Council's Core Strategy has pushed back the production of the Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document, meaning the current timescale for production is now:
  • Evidence gathering: February - July 2010
  • Consultation: January - March 2011
  • Publication: June 2011
  • Submission to the Secretary of State: October 2011
  • Examination: February 2012
  • Adoption: July 2012

So despite currently being in the evidence gathering stage, the final plan won't be formally adopted until the London Olympics are underway. It's a constant frustration for the parish council as to how long these planning documents take to produce. Looking back over the history of this, the plan's adoption has now slipped from February 2011, to summer 2011, now to July 2012. Let's hope there are no further delays.

On a happier note, Tony Gillias also reported that he was to become the Chairman of Rugby Borough Council's Planning Committee for 2010/11. Congratulations to Tony, and lets hope he can use his influence to ensure there are no further delays in the production of the site allocations plan.

Finally, the Annual Parish Meeting was the first meeting attended by our new borough councillor
Rachel Watts. The Chairman welcomed her to Shilton and Barnacle and congratulated her on her recent election victory.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Planning Application Decision

Rugby Borough Council has reached the following decision on a planning application submitted in September:
  • The Stables, Wood Lane, Shilton - erection of an agricultural storage building - approved.

The full decision on this application can be viewed here.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Broadband Scrutiny Review - Update

You may recall that back in March I reported that Rugby Borough Council had decided not to undertake a scrutiny review into the availability of high speed broadband in the rural areas of the borough. This was a suggestion I had made in response to their request in February for issues of local concern that would benefit from a detailed review by the Borough Council.

Yesterday, I received a letter from Rugby's Scrutiny and Policy Officer setting out in detail the reasons why the Council had decided not to undertake a scrutiny review into this issue.

This is the letter:

Thank you for submitting Shilton Parish Council's interesting proposal for an overview and scrutiny review on access to high speed broadband in rural communities. The members considered a record 33 proposals and reducing these to a manageable shortlist was a challenging task. I have to inform you that your proposal was not selected for inclusion in the scrutiny programme in 2010/11.

The members noted that the issue of slow speeds and non-availability of broadband in rural and many urban areas across the country was currently being addressed through the Broadband Service Commitment. They felt that a national rather than a local approach would in the first instance be most appropriate, and a local scrutiny study would duplicate much of this. In the meantime,
Virgin and BT are known to be doing some work to make improvements in individual areas, and I am sure local councillors will do all they can to act as spokespeople for their areas.

This is as far as the members' discussion of the matter went. However, I would add that, after the completion of the present phase of the national assessment of 'not-spots', it might be worth looking at this subject again. The funding of the national initiative to improve coverage will presumably continue to be problematic, and - given the dire prospects for public funding - this will be no less the case at local authority level. However, if the businesses that will benefit believe there is a good business case for putting up the money themselves, all may not be lost.

You might therefore consider resubmitting your proposal next year, possibly focusing on local initiatives. I would warn, however, that there will still be no guarantee that a case can be made for a scrutiny review. The uneven availability and speed of broadband may be a matter of public concern, but it would be hard to argue that high speed broadband is necessary for social networking and the types of communication with and by the council that are mentioned in support of your proposal. (Admittedly, though, no broadband at all is a different matter.)

In the meantime, there may be work that interested parish councils can do in their localities, for example by gathering evidence so that local businesses would regard putting money into a wireless scheme as a sound investment and, indeed, by co-ordinating schemes funded this way.

Thank you again for your suggestion. We rely on involvement from outside organisations and individuals to keep our overview and scrutiny work relevant to local people's needs and concerns, and I hope you will not be deterred from making other suggestions in future.

I'm grateful to Rugby BC's Scrutiny Office for this considered response but, regrettably, don't entirely share their confidence that the private sector alone can be relied upon to meet the demand in rural areas for highspeed broadband provision.

I shall blog again within the next week on my more detailed response to the issues raised in this letter and the way I think things could evolve for rural broadband provision.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Planning Application Consultation

This week, a planning application has been submitted by:
  • Woodway Engineering Ltd, Lower Road, Barnacle - provision of a vehicular access door.

Full details of the application (including site plans) can be found by clicking here. All comments on the application must be received by Rugby Borough Council by Friday 28 May.

Rugby Borough Council Election Results

Voting to elect 16 councillors to sit on Rugby Borough Council for the next four years took place on Thursday, and after the votes had been counted the Conservatives were returned to the Town Hall with an increased majority.

By the end of the night, the Conservatives had won 10 seats (an increase of one), Labour had secured four seats (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats had won two seats (down one). The overall balance of power in the borough for the next year will be:

  • Conservatives - 28 seats
  • Labour - 11 seats
  • Liberal Democrats - 9 seats

The Conservatives now have a majority of eight over all other parties in the Council Chamber and retain the control of the council they've had since 2007.

The full result for the Fosse ward was:

  • Rachel Watts (Conservative) - 1,242
  • Richard Gunstone (Liberal Democrat) - 548
  • Robert Bevin (Labour) - 452

Congratulations to Rachel Watts who has now taken over the seat vacated by Neil Campbell. I look forward to working with her through the parish council in getting the best for Shilton and Barnacle.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

General Election - 6 May - Rugby Constituency Candidates

The nomination period has now closed for the General Election being held next month, and six candidates have put themselves forward to be the MP for the new Rugby constituency. The candidates are:

Polling will take place on Thursday 6 May. Further details about the nominated candidates can be found here.

Thou Shalt Not Pass!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Rugby Borough Council Elections - 6 May - Fosse Ward Candidates

The nomination period has now closed for the upcoming elections to Rugby Borough Council, and three people have put themselves forward hoping to be one of the borough councillors for the Fosse ward for the next four years. The candidates are:

Robert Bevin (Labour)
Richard Gunstone (Liberal Democrat)
Rachel Watts (Conservative)

The election will be held on Thursday 6 May. Further details about the nominated candidates can be found here.

The Return of the Cones

Many of you will have set off for work on Wednesday morning to be confronted once again by the sight of Lower Road, Barnacle flanked on both sides by orange cones. Overnight on Tuesday, 20 more drain grilles were stolen for their scrap metal value, adding to those taken only a few weeks ago from Church Road on the way out of Shilton.

Ironically, at the parish council meeting just that evening, Councillor Phillip Morris-Jones was commenting on the extent of the problem that the theft of these grilles was to Warwickshire County Council. But until they're either made out of something that has no recycle value, or they are secured in some way that prevents their removal, I can't see what can be done to prevent it happening time and again.

Until then, we all have to put up with the danger caused to cyclists and other road users, and the general unsightliness caused to the local area.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Rugby Borough Council Elections - 6 May

With all the interest focused on what looks like being the General Election at the beginning of May, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Thursday 6 May is also the date of local elections to Rugby Borough Council.

And although the election is still more than a month away, nomination papers for those people wishing to stand as a candidate in the election need to be submitted by Thursday 8 April - only nine days time! So if you're thinking of standing for election, you do need to act quickly.

Shilton and Barnacle lie within the Fosse ward, and this seat was last contested in 2006, when the result was:

Neil Campbell (
Conservative) 907
Sally Ravenhall (
Liberal Democrat) 228
Richard Best (
Labour) 185

However, Neil Campbell has announced that he is not seeking re-election this time round, and so whoever wins, Shilton and Barnacle will have somebody new representing them at the Town Hall.

I will post a full list of the candidates once the closing date for nominations has passed. Further information for those wishing to stand as a candidate in the election can be found on Rugby Borough Council's website

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

No Scrutiny Review of Rural Broadband

At the beginning of February, I blogged about a suggestion I had made to Rugby Borough Council's Overview and Scrutiny Management Board for a review of access to high speed broadband internet in rural communities in the borough.

Rugby's councillors carry out scrutiny reviews into a range of different topics every year, and had called for suggestions from parish councils and members of the public for issues of local concern that they could look into.

I am concerned at the general lack of availability of high speed broadband within Shilton and Barnacle, and the implications this has for members of the public to access services online. The Parish Council supported my suggestion for a scrutiny review to look to establishing the extent of poor broadband provision within rural communities in the borough, as well as investigating what technologies exist that can overcome this problem.

Last week, the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board met to consider which scrutiny reviews to undertake during 2010/11. Sadly, my suggestion was not adopted. It was considered that such a review..... "would duplicate other initiatives, particularly work being carried out by Warwickshire County Council". However, one small positive was that the councillors did accept that the proposal should be considered again next year for a possible review to be carried out towards the end of 2011.

I'm not aware of what "other initiatives" Warwickshire County Council is currently involved with in this regard, but I shall be looking into this to see if there's scope for the issues in Shilton and Barnacle to be considered as part of it.

To be fair to Rugby BC, there were 33 suggested reviews, of which 16 have now progressed for further consideration. However, I shall have to look to pursue the broadband issue through other avenues.

The full report considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board can be read here.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Council Tax 2010/11

By now, Council Tax bills for 2010/11 should've dropped through letterboxes in the parish, and we can all see how much we'll have to pay for council services in the forthcoming year.

In the current straightened economic times, you'll hopefully be pleased to see that the Shilton Parish Council element of the Council Tax has gone down this year. This is slightly misleading because, as I told you in December, our overall budget has actually increased by 0.8% (from £15,580 to £15,700). However, because there's actually more properties in Shilton and Barnacle paying Council Tax this year, this means that the amount everyone has to pay towards the overall total is a bit less than it was this year.

Across the whole of the Rugby borough area, there are 37 parish councils that have set a budget for next year. These range from £70,000 (in Dunchurch) to £200 (in Willey). Shilton's budget of £15,700 is the 12th largest amongst those 37 parish councils.

Bearing these large differences in individual council budgets in mind, the services local residents will actually get from their parish council will clearly vary greatly from one village to another, and it's difficult to draw too many conclusions just by looking at overall budgets. And ultimately it's for the local electorate within each parish to decide whether their local council offers good value for money.

But I do draw one conclusion.

There is only one area in the borough that doesn't have a parish (or town) council, and that is the town of Rugby itself. Here, the services and functions that would otherwise be carried out by a parish council are undertaken by Rugby Borough Council. And the amount it charges its Rugby town residents to do the things that parish councils do is £64.58 per year for a band D property.

For the same services in Shilton and Barnacle, the parish council charges you £43.61 for a band D property. In fact, of the 37 parish councils who have set a budget, only four (Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Stretton-on-Dunsmore, Willoughby and Wolston) charge their residents more than Rugby Borough Council charges its residents who live in the town area. I think that this shows the value of parish councils, and their ability to deliver low cost services that meet the needs of local residents.

Remember this the next time you complain about the parish council costing you money!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

WALC Annual Seminar - 6 March

Last Saturday, I attended the Warwickshire and West Midlands Association of Local Councils (WALC) Annual Seminar in Warwick. This one day training event brings together representatives from many of the town and parish councils in Warwickshire and the West Midlands to listen to speeches, undertake training and share best practice with colleagues.

There were three main sessions that I attended: Standards for England undertook a training session on ethics, standards of behaviour and complaints about councillors; the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) led a session on the use of social media tools to improve communication with the public; and NALC also led a session aimed at improving the effectiveness of parish council meetings.

I found the session on the use of social media to be the most interesting of the day. It was led by NALC's Head of Communications and looked at how town and parish councils could use tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to communicate better with local residents.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many in attendance had not yet got their heads fully around this whole 'internet' thing! But what was encouraging for me was the way that even these councillors were beginning to recognise that the public was increasingly turning to websites, blogs and other social media to source information about their local council. I hope my blog can play its own small part in this process.

It was also useful to talk to others who had taken advantage of social media tools for their own local council. Councillor Philip Vial from Shipston-on-Stour Town Council uses his Twitter page to good effect, and I was interested to hear his views on how to make the most of an online presence.

Overall, it was a worthwhile event to attend (at a cost to the parish council of £35) and one that gave me much food for thought.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Red Sky at Night

As seen over Park Farm, Barnacle this evening as the sun began to set.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Parish Council Meeting - 2 March

On Tuesday night I attended the monthly parish council meeting in Shilton. This meeting was particularly interesting to me because of two issues that I've taken an interest in.

First up, the council received a presentation from Paul Collett, the Community Safety Project Officer for Warwickshire County Council who spoke about the Rugby Rural CCTV Network project. I first mentioned this project following a meeting I attended in December last year. Essentially, the scheme provides for up to eight secure CCTV cameras in each rural parish, that sends images via the internet back to a central police control centre, to be retrieved at a later date by the police if there is suspicion that criminal activity had been captured by a camera.

Parish councils that wish to apply to join the network would only need to fund the cost of the cameras themselves and the internet connection to send the images back to the control centre, which means that the total amount needed to be spent is within most parish councils' means.

The scheme is initially being launched in Wolston, and then rolled out to applicant parishes who wish to sign up to the CCTV network. Parish councils are being invited to see the system in Wolston once it is in operation to gauge the suitability of it for their own areas.

Shilton parish councillors were impressed by the capabilities of the CCTV cameras, and it's something that we will be following up on once the Wolston trial is up and running.

Those of you who read my last post with have gathered that the problem of litter and waste has become something that I want to try and do something about. Therefore, I proposed at Tuesday's meeting that as a start, the parish council could agree to fund the hire of two large skips (one for each village) to be sited in a central location on a given Saturday to enable local people to safely, easily and cleanly dispose of any bulky refuse that they have been holding on to.

The two nearest Household Waste Recycling Centres (that's what you and I would call the council tip!) involve a round trip of over 16 miles (to Tuttle Hill, Nuneaton) and 26 miles (to Hunters Lane, Rugby). Perhaps unsurprisingly, people therefore accumulate junk that they need to throw out, but just never get round to doing so. And whilst I'm sure no resident of Shilton or Barnacle would ever choose to fly-tip this rubbish, I do think that the parish council can give people a helping hand by providing a skip to encourage a spring clean and general tidy up.

The parish council unanimously backed this idea, and if it proves to be successful and popular, would be keen to make it a regular event.

None of the detail of what day the event will be held on, or where the skips will be located has yet been worked out, so keep an eye out in the next edition of BASIS for this information (and keep reading my blog because I'll have the news here first!). But with a bit of community support, and no-one taking too much of an advantage of the situation, this should result in a worthwhile event being put on by parish council to help make Shilton and Barnacle a cleaner, and nicer, place to live.

Keep checking back for the latest news regarding the CCTV initiative and future litter clearing projects, and leave a comment below if you have any views on either of these subjects yourself.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

WALC Rugby Branch Meeting - 25 February

On Thursday night, I attended the Rugby branch meeting of the Warwickshire and West Midlands Association of Local Councils (WALC) in Ryton-on-Dunsmore.

The main item of interest was a presentation by Myles Thornton from the Warwickshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England on the problem of litter, and their 'Stop the Drop' initiative to target this.

Some of the facts presented at the meeting highlighted just what a blight litter was and how much of a problem it had become:
  • it costs local authorities more than £500 million a year to clear up litter;
  • there has been a five-fold increase in the amount of litter dropped in the UK since the 1960s;
  • an estimated 25 million tonnes of litter is dropped in public places every year (equivalent to the weight of 62,500 jumbo jets);
  • in 2007, an estimated 69,000 animals were killed or injured by litter dropped in Britain;
  • every weekend, 1.3 million pieces of rubbish are dropped on motorways and major truck roads across England - totalling 67.6 million items of litter ever year.
  • fly-tipping cost councils across the country a further £74 million to clear up the 2.6 million instances where it occurred during 2007, yet there were only 1,800 successful prosecutions against the people doing the fly-tipping.

Frankly, I was staggered by these statistics, but we see the evidence for ourselves every day right on our doorsteps in Shilton and Barnacle.

In response to this national blight, the CPRE have launched their 'Stop the Drop' campaign which encourages local residents, supported by their parish council, to clear up their local neighbourhood on a regular basis.

There's a lot more detail to the scheme, and it's something I'd like the Shilton parish councillors to discuss to see what we can do to play our part. The next meeting of the parish council is next week (Tuesday 2 March), and I shall report back on those discussions in a future blog.

I know local people who already do take it upon themselves to pick up litter, and there are the annual village litter picks that get people involved too (Barnacle's is Saturday 28 March - put it in your diary!) If there can be a consistent, co-ordinated and long-term approach to keeping our own local streets and green areas clear of rubbish, then it'll be something we should take pride in, and hopefully motivate all of us to do our bit!

Watch this space for further news.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Fosse Community Forum - Venue Update

Back in December, I mentioned that Warwickshire Police's Safer Neighbourhood Team were to look into reported instances of drug misuse taking place in the car park at Shilton Village Hall. This had been raised at the most recent Fosse Community Forum, and the Police agreed to target the car park during the next three months to try to address these concerns.

The next meeting of the Fosse Community Forum is being held on Tuesday 23 March, starting at 7.30pm. This was to have been held at the Village Hall in Shilton, giving residents a good opportunity to come along and hear what had been done.

Unfortunately, due to the unavailability of the room, the meeting will now be held at the Village Hall, Brockhurst Lane, Monks Kirby. I shall be at the meeting, and will report back on what the Police had to say for those of you who are unable to get to Monks Kirby.

A poster advertising this meeting can be viewed here.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Site Updates and How to Post Your Comments

Hopefully you'll have noticed a gradual improvement in the appearance and content of this blog.

Those of you who were with me from the start may well remember the bland 'all white' look of the site. Things have moved on a bit from those minimalist beginnings, and I'm beginning to feel more happy about the way the blog's looking. I know that it still doesn't have enough video, audio or pictures, but I'm always on the lookout for how it can be improved so that it is a more attractive site to visit.

There are two new improvements to the site I wanted to tell you about. After each post, you'll now see a 'Reactions' tool. This allows you, by clicking in the box next to the description that best fits your reaction to the story, to give instant feedback on what you thought about what you've just read. It's helpful to me to see what people are interested in and what they're not. And it'll be interesting for other people viewing the site to see which stories have generated the most interest. So the next time you read something you like, or don't like, let everyone else know by registering your reaction!

If you've wished that there was some way to be automatically notified of when this blog gets updated (and you're not technically minded enough to subscribe to my RSS feed), then you'll be pleased to know that there now is. Email me (dan - but without the space between my first and surname) and you will be automatically notified by this blog every time I post a new story, saving yourself time logging on to the site only to find the same story still at the top of the page, and getting to read the new stories as soon as I post them.

I have one further request to make regarding people adding 'Comments' on to the stories that I post. It's not a new feature on the blog, but it is one that's woefully underused. I guess you come to this site because you're interested in what I've written. I am equally interested in what you think. So if you've always wanted to post a comment, but don't know how to, here's the straightforward guide:
  • The last ten stories that I've posted always appear on the homepage of the blog. The title of each of those stories is actually a clickable link (eg. the title of the story immediately below this one is "What the Parish Council Will Cost You"). If you've read a story that you want to comment on, click on the title of that story.
  • This will take you to a new page containing just that one story that you clicked on (the rest of the blog page will look exactly the same). Scroll to the bottom of the story and you'll see a heading "Post a Comment" followed by an empty box.
  • Type whatever comment you wish to make (good or bad!) in that empty box.
  • Underneath the box, you'll see another heading "Comment as:" with a down-pointing arrow next to it. Click on the down arrow.
  • You'll be presented with a list of up to eight options, but you only really need to concern yourself with the bottom two. If you want to add your name to the comment you made, select the second from bottom "Name/URL" and then type your name in the box that pops up (and then click "Continue"); or select "Anonymous" and your comments will be posted without you having to say who you are.
  • Finally, click on "Post Comment" and that's all there is to it.

And if you think that this sounds complicated, try it once and you'll realise just how simple and obvious it actually all is.

Once people start posting comments, these will appear at the bottom of the each post they relate to. Have a look at my 1 February 'Scrutiny Review' story as a good example of this.

Blogs become really interesting when there's a regular exchange of differing views and opinions, so I'm calling on my regular readers to set an example and let's start having a conversation!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

What the Parish Council Will Cost You

I told you in December that Shilton Parish Council had set a budget of £15,700 for 2010/11. I'm now able to tell you how this will be reflected on the Council Tax bills that you'll start paying from April.

It is important to remember that this is not the total Council Tax bill that you'll have to pay, but just one element of it (relating to Shilton Parish Council only). The combined costs of
Warwickshire County Council, Rugby Borough Council, Warwickshire Police Authority and the parish council make up the overall Council Tax bill that you have to pay.

Each of these other bodies are currently in the process of setting their budgets for the forthcoming year, which will be added together before the bills are sent out to households. For a quick recap on the funding of your local councils and the Council Tax, read
here and here.

However, if you'd like to know exactly how much you'll be paying in 2010/11 towards the cost of the parish council, the total annual amount (depending on what band your property comes under) is:
  • Band A - £29.07
  • Band B - £33.92
  • Band C - £38.77
  • Band D - £43.61
  • Band E - £53.30
  • Band F - £63.00
  • Band G - £72.69
  • Band H - £87.22
In true politician's style, I'll tell you that for a Band D property, this equates to only 84p per week. I'm hoping that you'll now tell me whether we're worth it or not!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Scrutiny Review Proposal for Rugby Borough Council

Each year, Rugby Borough Council carries out a series of scrutiny reviews on topics of local concern. A number of in-depth reviews are undertaken by small cross-party groups of councillors, who will gather evidence in order to make recommendations for change or improvement to the Council's Cabinet.

In order to assist in drawing up its work programme of reviews in 2010/11, Rugby is asking individuals and organisations (including parish councils) to suggest issues of local concern that would benefit from a detailed review by the Borough Council. With this in mind, over the weekend I submitted my suggested scrutiny review for inclusion within their 2010/11 work programme.

My suggestion is a review of the availability of highspeed broadband internet in rural communities within the borough. It can't have escaped anyone's attention in Shilton or Barnacle that the broadband access is slow at best, at times becoming non-existent. Where broadband is available, line speeds are so slow that making use of services like the
BBC's iPlayer is impossible.

The problem is due to the distance from properties in the two villages to BT's exchange, which is located at Walsgrave. The further the distance between the house and the exchange, the slower the download speeds will be. I'm told my property is 6.1km away from the exchange, which is right at the limit of being able to access broadband services. And unless BT build an exchange closer to the village, things won't improve.

Government are recommending that households throughout the country should have access to 2Mbps download speeds by 2012, and have introduced the 50p per month 'broadband tax' on all telephone line rentals to help pay for the infrastructure upgrades that will be required to deliver these improvements. The 2Mbps download speed is considered the minimum required to be able to watch streaming video services like the iPlayer and YouTube. But will these improvements happen before the end of 2012? I very much doubt it.

My scrutiny review would require Rugby Borough Council to establish how many households within the borough are currently unable to access broadband speeds in excess of the Government's recommended 2Mbps. It asks what measures Rugby Borough Council could take to ensure that those households currently without highspeed broadband access were not disadvantaged in accessing public information over the internet. And it challenges the Council to work with technology partners to look at innovative ways to bring highspeed broadband to rural communities within the borough through the use of wireless technologies.

There are many examples across the country where wireless technology has been used to provide the solution to slow broadband speeds. Hopefully, this proposed scrutiny review will help test the extent to which Rugby Borough Council are prepared to work with local communities to overcome pockets of super slow broadband.

Rugby's Overview and Scrutiny Management Board are meeting on 15 March to consider which reviews to take forward into next year's work programme. I shall keep you updated on progress as it develops. Broadband is no doubt a topic I'll return to again at another time!

Monday, 25 January 2010

More Suggested Bookmarks

The social networking phenomenon of the last 12 months must surely be Twitter. It's often been hard to avoid references in the media to the microblogging service that lets users post messages containing no more than 140 characters - a sort of text message for the internet, if you like.

It may have started out in 2006 as an innovative way by which to share snippets of information with friends, but these days large organisations increasingly use Twitter to get their messages out to the general public.

The public sector is catching on to this, and two Twitter sites that may be of interest to you belong to
Warwickshire County Council and Rugby Borough Council. Both sites contain breaking news stories, with links to where you can read more about the particular topic. These sites are often a good first place to visit on the internet if you want to source the most up to date information from your local councils.

Which begs the question, does Shilton Parish Council need a Twitter page? Leave me a comment below if you have an opinion!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Regional Spatial Strategy Update

The Regional Spatial Strategy continues on its long, slow grind towards completion. If you remember, the RSS is a West Midlands-wide policy document, prepared by the West Midlands Regional Assembly, that sets out the long term objectives for the use of land across the region. Included within this are policies about the scale and distribution of new housing development, where investment in transport infrastructure will take place, and policies for improving the environment.

It's been of particular interest for Shilton Parish Council because the RSS will also specify how many new gypsy and traveller pitches each council in the West Midlands must make provision for during the next 20 years. This is being done by estimating the likely need for new pitches across the region, and then deciding how many of these should be allocated to each council area. Once this figure has been settled on, the local council (eg. Rugby Borough Council) must agree its own planning criteria that, once applied, will result in planning permission being given for the number of pitches that it is required to accommodate.

In other words, the Regional Spatial Strategy tells each council how many gypsy and traveller pitches there must be within their local area, and then the local council has to decide itself where within its boundaries it will give permission for these pitches to be located.

Back in August last year, there was a public consultation on the proposals for how many pitches should be allocated to each council area. The consultation provided three different possible options from which to choose, and which would have resulted in Rugby borough having to accommodate either 66, 61 or 55 additional pitches in the period 2007-17, depending on which criteria was adopted for allocating the 939 total additional pitches that it was considered the West Midlands needed.

Bringing things up to date, the West Midlands Regional Assembly have now published their preferred option, based, in part, on the responses received to the consultation. And they've had a change of heart!

Neither of the three options consulted on has been adopted. Instead, they have come up with a new fourth option, which is to allocate pitches as and where the need arises (and that was the option that would have resulted in 66 new pitches for Rugby borough), but in an attempt to avoid too many pitches ending up in any one council area, each council will have its allocation capped at a maximum of 42. And that is the new total that has been allocated to our borough (the surplus 24 pitches from the original 66 having been reallocated to Coventry[12], North Warwickshire[6], Tamworth[3] and Warwick[3]).

As a county, Warwickshire will have to find a total of 152 extra pitches between now and 2017 to accommodate the expected increase in gypsy and traveller population. This will be divided up as follows:
  • North Warwickshire - 16
  • Nuneaton & Bedworth - 29
  • Rugby - 42
  • Stratford-on-Avon - 42
  • Warwick - 23

These proposals will now be the subject of a further round of consultation, with a view to a final decision being taken by the West Midlands Regional Assembly at its meeting in March. Things could still change, but I'll let you know what's happened as soon as I hear!

A copy of the full report that contains all of this information can be read here. Pages 8-39 of the report specifically relate to the allocation of pitches issue.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Normal Business Is Resumed

Apologies for the lack of updates and stories for the last month. A technical problem with BT deprived me of broadband access just before Christmas, and it took until just a few days ago before the corroded wire was found, replaced and I was back online.

For everyone who's kept checking back for updates when there's been none - thanks for sticking with me!